Photographer puts her camera's focus on white objects, using natural light

41 Starr pictures included in Art Gallery exhibit at community college

July 22, 1999|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

Photographer Jan Starr has a thing for the color white.

Her thing is more about photographing white objects: window dressings, antique lace dresses, wicker furniture, pitchers, gloves, blocks of glass -- anything that can reflect soothing natural light through her lens.

Her black-and-white photographs of white subjects are something of a trademark for Starr, who also serves as coordinator of the photography department for Howard Community College in Columbia.

Her current show, "Reflecting on the Past and Present," features 41 pictures and will be on display at the college's Art Gallery through Aug. 20.

Starr, 48, lives with her husband and her daughter, Jenna, 16, in Marriottsville. A student at Glenelg High School, Jenna is a frequent model for Starr's introspective photos and makes an appearance holding a large reflective orb in a number of Starr's newer prints featured in the show.

The orb acts as a distorted mirror to Starr's lens and her subjects. People appear warped and misshapen, but the effect is comforting and curious.

Starr says she "had to work really hard at getting myself out of the pictures, but I just couldn't in all of them. But I love the distortions the orb created."

Over the years, Starr has photographed everyday objects around her. Many of the photographs featured in the "Reflecting" show were shot in rooms in her house. The subjects are often simple, and Starr prefers to use natural, existing light.

The results can be startling. A few of her favorite photos are included in the show and take the viewer on a tour through an abandoned building in Alma, Pa. The five pictures -- known as the "Faded Past Series" -- explore the effect light has on the deserted rooms and broken wooden pails.

Starr acknowledges her debt to American photographer Imogen Cunningham, whose sensual black-and-white pictures of plants and flowers are among her best-known works.

"I've never had a real interest in doing studio work," Starr says. "I love to shoot what I see around me. I can find inspiration everywhere, even in my bedroom curtains."

Born in Amherst, Ohio, Starr moved to Maryland shortly after getting married. She began taking pictures after signing up for a continuing education photography class at Howard Community College in 1972. After graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park, Starr began teaching photography at Essex Community College.

Starr received a master's degree in instructional technology from Towson State University.

She returned to Howard Community College in 1981, when she became the photography department's coordinator and hired experienced local photographers who could share their knowledge of the craft and the darkroom with the novice shooters.

Starr takes her camera everywhere and encourages her students to do the same. Basic photography techniques are drilled into each student, and all are encouraged to spend as much time as they need in the college's well-stocked photo laboratory and darkroom, which was partially funded by a $25,000 grant from one of Starr's former students.

"To me, photography is a hands-on experience of watching the print" come to life in the darkroom and makes the whole experience worthwhile, Starr says. "I always tell my students that they have to make sure they love photography because it's a lot of intense work."

Teaching something she loves has kept Starr excited and interested in her craft.

"I try to make this as much fun as possible," she says, "because creativity should be enjoyable."

"Reflecting on the Past and Present," photographs by Jan Starr, will be on display at Howard Community College's Art Gallery to Aug. 20. Gallery hours are from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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